Aides to President Nursultan Nazarbayev are downplaying signs of dissension within Kazakhstan's ruling elite. Meanwhile, Nazarbayev has called for the unification of pro-presidential political forces ahead of parliamentary elections this fall.
On March 11, Emergency Situations Minister Zamanbek Nurkadilov issued a blistering attack on Nazarbayev, accusing the president of engaging in corrupt practices and stifling political opposition. Nurkadilov also called for Nazarbayev's resignation. "What are you waiting for? Why don't you resign?" Nurkadilov said in a statement.
The timing and the vehemence of Nurkadilov's attack caught many political observers off guard. Some believed the tirade to be linked to a March 10 personnel reshuffle carried out by Nazarbayev, in which Nurtai Abykayev was appointed president of the Senate, while Imangali Tasmagambetov was named presidential chief of staff. Those appointments suggested that Nazarbayev is intent on shunting aside long-time political allies, such as Nurkadilov.
Other political analysts, including Sabit Zhusupov, the president of the Institute of Social and Economic Information, believe Nurkadilov's attack may have been a pre-emptive strike designed to deflect attention away from a corruption investigation at the Emergency Situations Ministry. A recent state audit raised questions about potential embezzlement. As head of the ministry, Nurkadilov stands to be held politically responsible for any scandal.
Zhusupov told the Kazakhstan Monitor newspaper that Nurkadilov had a reputation within government circles for impulsive behavior. "Hence a bold form of action fits in this case," Zhusupov said. "His demand for Nursultan Nazarbayev's resignation automatically makes Nurkadilov a political opponent of the president's. Thus, any action against him would now be viewed by citizens as [politically motivated] repression."
Nurkadilov had been a Nazarbayev confidant for roughly two decades. Prior to serving as emergency situations minister, Nurkadilov filled the politically sensitive post of Almaty regional governor. In recent years, however, Nurkadilov's influence waned.
Whatever Nurkadilov's motives, top aides to Nazarbayev do not profess to be concerned. Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, a top Nazarbayev adviser, said Nurkadilov's corruption allegations were based on "unsubstantiated facts," the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency said. [For background information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Yertysbayev went on to claim that Nurkadilov's attack underscored the fact that Kazakhstan's political system is more open than is often portrayed in the Western press.
"A lot of people have people have fallen away from the president's circle," Yertysbayev said, hinting that Nurkadilov was disgruntled because he had fallen out of favor with Nazarbayev. "This [personnel turnover] is normal. This [Kazakhstan] is a democracy and these are democratic processes. It would be even more terrible if everyone shared the president's point of view."
Nazarbayev has refrained from directly responding to Nurkadilov's attack. Instead, the president appears focused on parliamentary elections scheduled for October. On March 12, Nazarbayev appeared at the congress of Otan (Fatherland), the largest pro-presidential political party in Kazakhstan. The president thanked Otan for being "the most consistent supporter of the reforms conducted in the country." He then went on to call on Otan to unite with three other pro-presidential forces the Civic Party, the Agrarians, and Asar.
Asar is a new party, led by the president's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. She indicated that her father's wish may become reality in the near future. "Otan will not be Asar's main rival in the election," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Nazarbayeva as saying. "We will help and support each other. This is unequivocal."
Ibragim Alibekov is the pseudonym for a Kazakhstan-based reporter and analyst.